Early signs forecast strong 2013-2014 winter season
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 30 October 2013
“We still haven’t fixed winter...”

Halloween unofficially marks the start of the pre-ski season. The lifts will start turning in about three weeks. We have seen natural storms in November dump feet of snow. If that doesn’t happen, the snow guns are fired up and will be blowing if the temperatures drop at night. It is a time for winter optimism.


News Generic


And aside from a tentative long-range ski season forecast, Tuesday’s Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce Winter Forecast meeting was full of optimism.
“All in all, we’re pretty bullish about this ski season,” Crested Butte Mountain Resort marketing vice president Scott Clarkson told the 70 people in attendance. “Our numbers are looking good and now we need some help from Mother Nature.”

Early numbers
While it is early in the booking season, compared to last year at this time, CBMR bookings are up for every month except December, which is showing down 2 percent over 2012. January is up 41 percent, February is up 65 percent, March is up 85 percent and the final six days of the season in April are up 69 percent. Thanksgiving looks to be up as well.
“We are pleased with the trends we are seeing,” said Clarkson. “Groups are up 65 percent for the season and that’s a big number. Primarily that is ski clubs. We will be helped by what looks like a longer New Year’s week, where people will stay until January 5 or January 6 instead of leaving on the first or second.”
Clarkson credits the early season increase to an aggressive marketing campaign under the banner of “Book early, save big.”
CBMR is also making a continued push to extend the winter season by hosting a snowmobile event the week after the ski area lifts stop turning.
The lifts close April 6 and from April 10 to April 13 the resort will host 200 competitors in snowmobile competitions. “We hope this can extend business to restaurants and lodging for another week,” he said.
Early numbers from lodges in downtown Crested Butte look similar to last year. According to Meaghan Young of the Downtown Crested Butte Lodging Association, overall the season is looking to be similar as last year in terms of downtown occupancy.
She said the early part of the season looks weak but the holiday period is looking up from last year.

Airing it out
The topic of much of the discussion at the Tuesday meeting was airline flights coming into Gunnison. CBMR’s air consultant, Jeff Moffett of the group Community Flights, said it was the company’s mandate to get out in the community to get the airline program to be a success. He shared a sobering statistic that showed in 1992/93 there were 97,000 airline seats coming into GUC. For the upcoming year that figure is down to 29,000.
“We need to get the seats we do have coming in filled so that the planes are at least 70 percent full,” he said. “That’s when we get the attention of the airlines. Ideally we want to fill the planes to 75 percent.”
Moffett said his group was working to strengthen the United flight out of Denver. He is spearheading a “Fly Gunnison Airport” promotion that will tie in local business incentives for those who can show a GUC boarding pass. A Fly Gunnison Airport Club is also being formed that will include a Facebook page that will alert users of airfares and deals. “We need the locals to start thinking about using Gunnison again,” he said.
CBMR vice president and general manager Ethan Mueller concurred. “The trends we are seeing with the air program is a big issue,” he said. “We need the whole community to help make the air program a success. We need the load factors to be higher. The number of airline seats coming in this winter is down 17 percent but we have still sold 600 more seats year-to-date. That’s good. We as a resort plan to help support the Denver service and we will help with buy-downs during the slow winter periods. We need the county and community to participate as well. Buy-downs really work. We need to get air passengers in here since each air passenger spends an average of $1,600 per visit.”
Moffett said the price of a ticket into or out of GUC is comparable to other ski resort airports. “Reliability and schedule come into play in Gunnison,” he said.
After discussion about local businesspeople choosing to fly out of other airports, including Montrose, Moffett admitted a big part of the problem is numbers. “Our challenge is that there aren’t that many people here to fill a 70-seat airplane seven days a week.”
“It’s a Catch-22 of needing the infrastructure to attract those business types to locate here but not having the numbers right now to attract that infrastructure,” concluded chamber executive director Dan Marshall.
“Exactly,” said Moffett. “If we want the overnight flight that leaves early in the morning, we need to get the [load factor] numbers where they need to be. In the long term, maybe we need to invest more as a community to get more flights here. Expand on the public-private partnerships.
“We’ve been retained to work with all the businesses in the valley,” he continued. “We need to jump-start a spiral of success instead of staying in the continued trend of a downward spiral.”
New GUC airport manager Rick Lamport said the airport was instituting a new de-icing policy that will help keep the airport open during shaky weather conditions. A new and improved radar system should help in that regard as well, he promised.

Mueller updated the crowd on the resort’s rebranding efforts. He said CBMR was looking for a simpler, cleaner, brighter look. “We’re a young community. Someone said it looked like something that might come from Patagonia or Mammut clothing. I said exactly. That’s who we are in this town. People walk around in that kind of outdoor gear instead of fur coats.
“We’re trying to depict a down-to-earth resort,” Mueller continued. “We are also really trying to push the family component of the resort. We are a small, easy resort and we want to make sure people realize we are all family-friendly.”

Summer rocking
Several speakers spoke to the business of summer. Marshall said July couldn’t get much busier. More than 22,000 people visited the Four-way Visitor’s Center last summer. Just fewer than 3,000 stopped in the Mt. Crested Butte Visitor’s Center and 11,000 came to the new Gothic Visitor’s Center.
Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep and Mt. Crested Butte financial officer Karl Trujillo said both towns were seeing record sales tax numbers for the summer months. In fact Crested Butte’s summer business tallies more than its winter figures. Even Mt. Crested Butte is moving in that direction; Trujillo said summer could overtake winter relatively soon.
Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick has seen more than a few winters in the valley. “It is critical that the two towns and CBMR continue to work together. It used to be that people would stop in Mt. Crested Butte in the summer for about 30 minutes but the Adventure Park activities keep them for an overnight,” he said. “We’ve fixed summer but we haven’t fixed winter. We need to figure that out. We’re the little guy on the destination resort ladder. We need to work together to get the word out about the reasons people should come here in the winter.”

And the weather forecast calls for...
National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Ramey ended the three-hour presentation with a long-range forecast that he admitted couldn’t be very accurate. Thank goodness. He said the winter is shaping up to be a neutral cycle, which means it will be neither an El Niño nor a La Niña year, and past history generally indicates that will be a lean snow year. So his best guess was that we would see below-normal snowfall, with the best chances of snow coming in November, December and March. “But I’m a skier and just bought a pass to Powderhorn, so I’m betting on a wet winter,” he said. And he then pulled up a slide of the Farmer’s Almanac forecast that calls for cold and snow. It is the time to be optimistic for the ski season after all.